Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Discovery about Old Friends

I've been growing purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) for years, decades even. So why didn't I know they had such a lovely fragrance?

Two or three weeks ago while pulling weeds from the path near this mass of coneflower I paused and wondered what that lovely fragrance was. Bumblebees buzzed around the flowers, sipping nectar. Could it be...?

I brought my nose next to a spiked flower and inhaled. Oh my. What a lovely fragrance.

This lady likes echinacea, too.
The flowers only release mass quantities of fragrance when it's warm and humid. At least that's one bonus of warm, humid mornings that cause me to break a sweat without trying.

I love this wonderful plant even more.

I grow four species of Echinacea and apparently a hybrid now. Not only E. purpurea, but also E. pallida, the species that grows in local prairies; E. angustifolia, the one considered the official "medicinal" echinacea; E. paradoxa with its bright yellow flowers and an orange variation. And now I have one that is possibly a cross between paradoxa and either pallida or purpurea, with pale yellow petals.

One tiny seedling of the rare E. tennesseensis grows in a pot on my front porch. I won't claim to grow five species until it finds its home in the soil somewhere in the garden.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Apples of My Eye

These are Liberty apples on a tree at the edge of the garden near the house. It's been a reliable little tree and not as prone
to thievery as the apple trees at the bottom of the hill where we can't watch them as closely.
All of our apples trees bear heavy loads this year. We've been planning to share the crop -- wormy as it might be since we've done no spraying -- with family and friends. We planted way too many apple trees while dreaming about selling organic apples at the farmers market.

But growing apples organically in Kansas is tough and selling at farmers market will remain just a dream for us. If we had it to do over again we would plant far fewer fruit trees and more berries.

We've not got way too many apples for ourselves. We figure we'll just let others come and pick for themselves.

Well others are coming to pick our apples... uninvited. And they're not the human kind of thieves.

For the past week or two we've watched the apples on the William's Pride tree grow redder and redder. The usual harvest time for that variety is August, so I wasn't getting too eager to pick them, although from a distance they sure looked ready.

They must have been ready, for on his daily walk yesterday morning my husband noticed that nearly all of the apples on that tree were gone, except for about a dozen that were still half green. During the night squirrels and/or raccoons and/or opossums had an apple picking party.

My visions of baked apple deliciousness were dashed. On the other hand I don't have to figure out what to do with all of those apples. Yesterday evening I went down and picked all of the remaining apples that I could reach from the ground. That should be enough. Even half green they taste pretty good, and they're pretty clean, not terribly wormy.

I'll watch the other trees more closely and when the apples start looking ripe, I'll call in the family and friends for an apple picking party, with human guests this time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

So... Rabbits Again

Rabbits: the perpetual curse. Or is it a blessing in disguise? I go back and forth.

I jokingly (half jokingly) refer to them as our "pet" rabbits. Looked at from one perspective, we are encroaching on their space, changing the environment. If I provide an easy food source for them, why shouldn't they take advantage.

I get along with the rabbits by building fences around the things they most like to eat (young pea plants, bean plants, chard, beets, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and apparently young okra plants. The deer also like to strawberry and sweet potato plants, so I have to put a chicken wire "top" on those beds to keep the deer from reaching over, or simply stepping over the two-foot tall rabbits fences. The deer seem easier to thwart than the rabbits, though.

Radishes. Rabbits don't seem to like radishes. They're safe without a fence.
Erecting chicken wire fences makes for an extra gardening task, but it's worth it to save the frustration of having my plants eaten, and it detracts less from the aesthetics than the white row cover. Besides, if I plan correctly I don't need to take all of them down and put them back up at the end of the season. For example, I'll leave up the fence around the sweet potatoes and plant peas and/or beans there next year. The fence around the strawberries just stays, since they are a perennial crop.

Row cover can't be considered a fool proof barrier against rabbits anyway. Two years ago (or was it last year?) a crafty rabbit learned that it can get to my tasty bush beans by tearing a hole in the row cover.

Or if I trap baby bunnies inside (How was I supposed to know they were there?) a row covered tunnel mama will readily tear her way in. A few weeks ago I had left the row cover off of the cabbages to facilitate the path rehabilitation project -- and doesn't it look nice. Before putting the row cover back in place I sprayed with Bt to take care of any cabbage eating larvae that might hatch out. The next day I noticed a large hole in the end of one of the row covers. And it just happened to be a new cover. The one that had been on there had gotten beaten up by the various elements and needed to be fully intact because I was planting squash in there as I harvested the cabbages. I hoped to delay the onslaught of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. So having a large hole torn in that row cover seemed a particular insult.

I waited a couple of days to patch the hole (with duct tape). The morning after I'd patched it, it was torn again, right next to the patch. At first I thought that the row cover was just weak there and the wind (we'd had a lot of it) just ripped it again. So I used more duct tape. The next day another rip! Aargh. Patch. Hmmm. Could it be that a mama bunny had hidden babies under the spreading leaves of the cabbages?

The next morning I stepped out onto the front steps to greet the sun and saw a hole in a different spot... aaaand a rabbit shoving her way through the row cover right next to the patch over the original holl -- FROM THE INSIDE! I am certain it was the very rabbit pictured above, as she is feeding on clover near that particular cabbage patch.

Bingo. My suspicions were correct. I pulled back the row cover and started tilting back cabbages. It didn't take long for me to discover the babies, fully furred and quite mobile, under one of the cabbages. I chased them out of the bed -- which took a few minutes because they split up and hid under other cabbages. Then I took off all the lower cabbage leaves, creating a less attractive hiding spot, chased out the last bunny and put the row cover back.

No more holes torn into the row cover. Problem solved. Now I can chuckle about actually finding babies in the cabbage patch.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Faster than a Speeding Bullet...

So much garden stuff happens in June. You would think that I'd be posting here every single day... maybe even more than once a day. So much garden stuff happens. I think about posting this and that, every little wonder that I see...

But, as I said, so much garden stuff happens. I go for days without even turning on the computer. When I do sit down and turn it on I'm often in a hurry, or more likely too tired to put effort into writing something. I might sit down thinking I'll post here, but when it comes to it, the energy just isn't there. It's been a long day in the garden. Or maybe I've failed to get the picture that I wanted to share and now it's too late for it. All this nature/garden stuff passes by with the speed of a bullet and the force of a speeding freight train. I sometimes feel as if I've been hit by that freight train. Didn't June just begin? Now we're suddenly well into July. Before you know it August will be here and I'll be in a frenzy dealing with tomatoes and green beans.
This is just a cool looking mushroom growing in the mulch on
the side of the garden. It looks like a little fairy house. I don't
know what kind of mushroom it is, but I thought it looked really
cool and I wanted to share the image.

It's only been a month since my last post but it seems like much longer... because so much garden stuff happens. The time for this post or that post has past.

So on this Sunday morning I'll get this one post in with a quick update and a couple of photos.

This morning, while it was still cool, my husband and I walked down our driveway and back (a total of a half mile, it's long for a driveway) and the spirits were rising from the pond. I'm not sure whether the mist rises because the water is warm and the air is cool, or vice versa. I do know that when the sun pops over the trees on the hill and hits the water, the spirits/mist rise up even more dramatically than can be seen in the above photo (taken at the end of May). Spirits rising from the water to greet the day. Water spirits or Air spirits? Does it matter?

As is usual, the water level in the pond is lower than when the photo was taken. By late fall -- barring any deluges between now and then -- the water in the pond will be just a memory. We could attempt to fix the leak again, but that would be thousands of dollars and no guarantee. Then we'd have to do something about the trees actually growing on the dam. No, the trees aren't causing the leak. It was doing that while they were barely noticeably seedlings. I'd love to keep the pond intact. But it's a good lesson in transience and the impermanent nature of all things. We're cool with that.

All good things (and bad things) come to an end, eventually. So I'll end here and share other goings on in another post. Ah yes, something to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Yesterday morning was warm... no, change that... Yesterday morning was hot and humid.
While picking snap peas (oh, I could sing the virtues of snap peas) I leaned over this mass of white arugula blossoms and caught a whiff of a pleasant fragrance. I did not know that arugula blossoms emitted such a sweet smell.

The garden daily brings me surprises. I wish they were all this sweet.

One does not usually couple arugula with sweetness. Its leaves add a pleasant, pungent bitterness to salads, something like mustard greens (to which it is related), but not quite. My first taste of arugula (20 years ago?) left me somewhat ambivalent. I wasn't quite sure if I liked it or not. But I've grown to love it and my garden is never without it. Indeed, if you routinely let it flower and set seed, just try to be without it.

It grows and tastes best when the weather is on the cool side, but with regular harvesting stands up reasonably well in the heat. Except it does bolt quickly when it gets warm.So I'll just go about smelling the arugula flowers. Imagine.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Poppies, poppies....

Poppies, so many poppies. We could call the Full Moon of June the Poppy Moon.

One of Shirley's many colors.
I so love these showy, brilliantly colored and varied flowers. The poppies shown above, playing nicely with the Echinacea pallida, are probably Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas). It's been so long since I planted the original seed that I have no idea which poppy breed they are, except that these look like Internet photos of Shirley poppies. But I also found other photos of "Shirleys" online that look different. They may simply be "double" cultivars. Double indicates extra rows of petals. Both the red and the pink are the same variety, as their colors vary greatly.

These are easy to grow and hardy annuals that must be planted each year.

Another Shirley, aka "corn poppy"
I collect the bulbous poppy seedheads when they turn brown, and shake out the seeds once they're fully dry (or, more likely, I'll just let them sit in a plastic container or a paper bag and the seeds mostly fall out on their own). In early spring, or even late fall I'll scatter the seeds...
Except, I don't always. Many times late fall and early spring pass by and the seeds are still sitting in their containers... which is what happened this year.

Fortunately these poppies self-sow rampantly. Their vivid blooms scattered among other blooms and greenery make a wild and lovely show.

The most famous -- or infamous -- species of poppy is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, which is the same species of poppy used to produce the seeds on your poppyseed bun. Opium production requires making an incision in the seed head, which then secretes a milky sap. The sap is left to dry until the next day, when it is scraped off. Production of opium seems like a very labor- and time-intensive activity. More effort than I'd want to go to. It's much easier just to shake the tiny black seeds from the pods and use them in baking. Tastier, too. And less likely to get you in trouble with the law.

Seeds for these lovelies were given to me by a friend. As far as
I can tell, they are Hungarian pepperbox, which is a cultivar of
the breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum.
Some countries outright outlaw this poppy species and its extracts. Some require a license to grow them for legal medicines. Others have no laws ruling growing of these poppies, as far as I can tell. The U.S. allows these poppies to be grown for seed and ornamental purposes, but it is illegal to produce opium from them (naturally). At least that's how precedence stands. You can easily find seed for bread seed poppies and grow your own for baked goods, or just for their beauty.

It was probably a field of P. somniferum that Dorothy found herself walking through on her way to see the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The fumes from the poppies put Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion to sleep. Of course, the Scarecrow and Tin Man, not having to breathe, were unaffected. Their method of escape from the deadly field of poppies differs between the book and the movie. However, it's doubtful that one will be affected by the narcotic effects of poppies just by walking through a field of them.

The opium poppy, as many powerful medicine plants, features in the myths of the Mediterranean region, their native stomping grounds. The most commonly known myth (at least to me) is that the Greek Goddess of the Fields, Demeter, created the opium poppy when her daughter Persephone went to live in the Underworld. The poppy helped her sleep. It also became the symbol of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and his brother Thanatos, the God of Death (eternal sleep). The son of Hypnos, Morpheus, God of Dreams, also claimed the opium poppy for his symbol and the word "morphine" was derived from his name.

The Shirley poppy was earlier known as the corn poppy, as it grew in the grain fields, and also was sacred to Demeter. Another epithet for this species is "Flanders poppy," and it now symbolizes remembrance of those whose lives were lost in war.

Other poppy species also exist, including a few perennial and biennial species. There is the California poppy, and this lovely orange, but unknown-to-me species (at right). It came in a bag of seed for "bee flowers." I think some California poppies might have been in that bag, too, but I see none blooming now.

And finally, I have this lovely horned poppy, also known as sea poppy (Glaucium flavum) because of its love for the seaside. I gathered seed for this plant from one growing in the xeriscape demonstration garden at the Extension office. This species also produces bright yellow flowers, as well as these lovely orange ones. Xeriscape is a term for low moisture gardening. So it should work well in arid conditions, as its blue green foliage suggests. It is native to Europe, but seems to do well here. Apparently this is a short-lived perennial, so I must gather seed from this three-year-old plant if I want to be sure of enjoying its blooms year after year. The seedpods are long and pointed, unlike the bulbous pods of other poppy species, which gave it the name "horned" poppy.

Enjoy Poppy Moon, you all.

Friday, June 2, 2017


I walked down to the pond a couple of mornings ago to watch the spirits dancing across the surface of the water. Other people might call it mist, but I see beautiful spirits. It was in the last days of May and the mornings have still been cool enough for the spirits to rise from the water.

As I walked back to the house I saw something orange at the edge of the mowed area. Upon investigation I discovered this lovely wildflower. Consulting the "Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses" Web site I was able to identify it as Western Wallflower, Erysimum asperum, a flower I had not encountered before -- that I know of. It most frequently occurs as a bright yellow instead of this lovely orange yellow. Later I went searching for additional information on "western wallflower" and encountered numerous sites referring to Erysimum capitatum.


Surely the Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses Web site doesn't have the name wrong. Well, it doesn't. Further searching revealed that both species are referred to as western wallflower. Indeed, both species might actually just be one species. No matter how much the classifiers fiddle with things, confusion still remains.

Anyway, both species are members of the mustard family, aka Brassicaceae, the same family to which cabbage, broccoli, mustard, and so on belong. The evidence is in their four-petaled flowers, which initially caused their family to be called Cruciferae, referring to the cross-shape of the flowers.

Another new flower friend. I wonder if it will be possible to catch its seed and scatter it in the flower bed, and if its possible for me not to pull and resultant seedlings as "weeds."